Firefighter Who Sued City Gets 911 Promotion

Facebook PhotoMayor Toni Harp has named a new director as of Monday of the city’s emergency 911 call center: firefighter Michael Briscoe. Her administration also agreed to pay him $285,000 to settle a lawsuit he was losing.

Even before Briscoe (pictured) started the job Monday, the head of the fire union questioned the appointment’s legality.

Briscoe will oversee the city’s public safety communications department, sometimes to referred to as PSAP (for “public safety answering point”).

It’s a high-pressure department at the front lines of daily crisis in New Haven. The department’s 55 staffers handled around 129,000 911 calls last year.

The department handles 911 calls jointly for the fire and police departments. It is currently housed on the fourth floor of the police department’s 1 Union Ave. headquarters. There has been some talk of relocating the office elsewhere in the city.

Briscoe has been pushing for a promotion for a decade—a different kind of promotion. He sued the city after failing to get a promotion to lieutenant based on a 2003 exam, one of a series of controversies involving alleged racial discrimination in the fire department’s testing process. Read about his case here and here.

David Rosen, Briscoe’s attorney, said Friday that both sides agreed it made sense to settle the case once Harp offered Briscoe the promotion. He said the city agreed to pay Briscoe $285,000 to drop the suit. He said the city’s insurance company will cover the cost of the suit.

Rosen defended the settlement “a very small fraction of the city’s exposure had the case dragged on, considering five years and counting of attorney’s fees and 10 years and counting in back pay.”

Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer confirmed that insurance will cover the settlement. “It’s not public funds,” he said.


Firefighters union President Jimmy Kottage attacked the appointment.

“Mike deserves every benefit that every other firefighter gets,” Kottage said. But he objected to the way the administration made the appointment—under a provision that allows the mayor to transfer a bargaining-unit member to another “similar” position without union approval. Briscoe will technically be considered a firefighter, Kottage said.

“There’s two problems I have with the whole issue. Is it a charter violation? Because the job is not similar in nature. And two: Did they do direct dealing with Mike? Because the union will still be representing Michael. I need to protect him. The city has no right dealing with Briscoe without contacting his union representation.”

Reached Friday afternoon, Grotheer said he had no available information for an immediate comment.

As for the $285,000 lawsuit settlement, Kottage remarked, “that’s not bad for a case that they lost” in preliminary court decisions.

Big Job Ahead

The public safety department has been without a director since October, when Clayton Northgraves resigned the post. George Peet, the deputy director, has run the department on an acting basis in the meantime.

Ron Hobson, president of AFSCME Local 884, which represents the department’s workers, welcomed the hiring of a new director.

“We need somebody in that room to get it back under control,” Hobson said Friday. “I’ve been in that room for 26 years. We’ve never had problems as severe as this. There’s low morale. Supervisors don’t care.”

The department’s temporary top bosses have done “the best they can” given the challenges there, Hobson said. “But when the chips are down, you have supervisors that don’t really supervise. They never should have become supervisors, because there were discipline problems when they got hired. We need someone in there to get some organization back in that room.” A couple of recent episodes have “come close” to coworkers “assaulting each other,” he said. “That place is totally out of control.”

Police Union President Louis Cavaliere Jr., meanwhile, renewed his call to have a police sergeant in the room, as well.

“We’ve been fighting to put someone back up there from our rank and file. A sergeant. The chief agreed. So far it’s fallen on deaf ears” from City Hall, Cavaliere said. “The city wants it all civilianized. We told them it’s not a good idea. That it won’t work. We’ve had a lot of complaints officers about civilians not taking them serious.”

New Fire Chief Allyn Wright said Friday that he’s “glad that the position is being filled and looking forward to improving the overall operations of the communication center.”

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posted by: Elm City Lifer on April 4, 2014  6:39pm

Does’nt the same insurance company that will pay the settlement pay the lawyers fees?  So why settle when the City has one everything so far and his case has been thrown out?

Why are they doing a mayoral tranfer and keeping him as a firefighter? Why not just appoint him to the position? Is there somebetter benefit he gets as a firefighter so he wants the best of both worlds?



posted by: 911supv47 on April 4, 2014  7:47pm

Good Luck to Micheal Briscoe in his new endeavor. But now on to the comments from Rob Hobson regarding Supervision in the room.The supervisors work within the limits of the city and the unions to manage staff and try to change negative behaviors that affect the operations within the communications center. Which is no easy task with the bureaucracy involved. The incident in which he speaks was between two employee’s and would have occurred regardless of who was watching the room. Facts are so much better than the lies he spoke in this interview. The supervisor was in the front and was immediately trying to separate these employee’s and remove them to separate rooms to resolve the situation and stop the disturbance as would be expected. Both employee’s will be written up for disrupting the room.  This was a personnel issue and not an issue of supervision. The communications center is not out of control and the supervisors do the best with what they are given from management and the city. Hobson’s statements are out of control and a feeble attempt to smear the good people that work in the communications center for personal or political gain. Oh one more thing. Ron Hobson works in the PSAP and is part of the problem.

posted by: Edward Francis on April 4, 2014  10:00pm

Just turn back the hands of time when the NHFD ran the 911 Center in the basement of the Hall of Records.  For many decades a fire department officer was the supervisor and the 911 operators were highly skilled.  The setup was right next door to the Emergency Operations Center.  Both operations went very smoothly.  It certainly made sense.  Then someone had a brainstorm to consolidate the police & fire together in the NHPD building on the upper floor. Big mistake.  I’m sure there is more to the story but it didn’t make response time any quicker.

posted by: 911supv47 on April 4, 2014  11:23pm

I’m sure the readers can see through the comments and know that there are many dedicated individuals here that deserve to be here and work day in and day out to make a difference in the lives of others. I am physically unable to be a firefighter or police officer due to medical issues that won’t allow me to meet the physical requirements of those job. This job affords me the chance to work as close as I can get which is emergency communications. It is a true shame that the bulk of the staff here are not represented in what the 884 union president stated. Morale is low because the staff are unhappy with their union representation and their contract. I have spoken to many of my coworkers and they agree that his comments were out of line and not true at all. We work in tight quarters for long hours, as human beings there is bound to be an argument or discrepancy from time to time. I have seen one since I started in 2010. It is not out of control here. Thanks for your time. Stash

posted by: fountainst on April 5, 2014  1:51pm

It is ironic that Ron Hobson complains of low morale and other issues in PSAP.  In 2010 those were the same reasons cited by the city’s consultant to justify removing control from the Police Department and creating an entirely new city department. Apparently not much has changed over the past 4 years.  Now the city has decided to replace a department head after the position has been vacant for 6 months without any posting or search to find a qualified replacement.  It is bewildering that the person selected has no supervisory experience and no background in public safety communications. The city recently posted a vacancy for the Director of Public Health with a detailed description of the duties and responsibilities. Why was the same not done for a department that has such an important role in the city’s emergency services?

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on April 6, 2014  8:07am

This is to the dispatchers, and dispatch assistants, who have done the job kindly and professionally for years, knowing that they have to answer each call as if it was a family member calling for help. The best ones are normally the quietest ones, as they are focused on their work, and the personal standard they set, and maintain, to try and be humane and helpful as possible on every call that comes in.

Now imagine trying to do the job with a good percentage of coworkers that do not, and will not conduct themselves in that manner, don’t really care what the management wants, what the job they are paid for demands from them, ignore or con their supervisors so as to continue to “beat the clock”, hold their coworkers, who conduct themselves professionally and personally, as the public would expect, with disdain. Even to the point of interfering with the work that someone else in the room is doing, for some sense of sick self satisfaction.

Now realize that some of these outstanding employees have been surviving in this mess for over 20 years, when the plans for this were started within the police department by Nick Pastore, and his assistant chief, Esserman.

That is how long the civilian control of emergency communications has been in the process of being “instituted”, to “save the taxpayers of New Haven Money”. Well no money has been saved, and the cost of operations has gone up to ten times what it was in 1990.

Prayers for the DAs that have survived this mess, and continue to this day to do the best job they can under terrible conditions. God Bless You and Thank You.

posted by: Noteworthy on April 6, 2014  10:35am

Settling this case by giving Briscoe not just a promotion but $285K - is proof of two things: One is that you can be unprepared for an exam, fail it miserably and because of skin color, still be rewarded handsomely. And second, despite losing in the courts, the House of Harp exhibits more insensitivity to taxpayers by paying Briscoe off with more of our money - from an account that is so deep in the red, the BOR has to borrow to pay settlements.

Every person of color should be outraged not just by the incompetence, but by Briscoe’s argument - that skin color kept him from doing well on the written test. Last week, we all celebrated a black immigrant from Nigeria’s near perfect score on the SAT amid an incredible extra curricular work load and his subsequent acceptance into every single Ivy League school include Yale.

I wonder what that kid would think of Briscoe’s argument and the city’s settlement.

posted by: webblog on April 7, 2014  7:31pm

Let us study the history of this case and you make a determination whether it is fair and just.

Oct. 2009, NHI.
“Briscoe’s complaint alleged that New Haven weighs the oral and written components of promotions examinations differently than other cities do, in a way that has a disparate impact on African-Americans. Briscoe topped the oral portion of the exam but did poorly on the written section. He sought promotion and back pay.

April 2010, NHI.

“Judge Charles S. Haight, Jr. issued a ruling on Wednesday granting a motion for dismissal by the City of New Haven. Attorneys for the city had filed the motion in response to a complaint brought against the city by firefighter Briscoe in October 2009”.

April 22, 2009 NHI.

Karen Torre, attorney for Ricci and his co-plaintiffs welcomed the judge’s decision. “This junk lawsuit has finally and rightly been dismissed,”

April 4, 2014 NHI.

“Mayor Toni Harp has named a new director as of Monday of the city’s emergency 911 call center: firefighter Michael Briscoe. Her administration also agreed to pay him $285,000 to settle a lawsuit he was losing”.

“Victor Bolden, attorney for the city, also welcomed the news. “Today, the City of New Haven achieved another step towards concluding issues relating to the 2003 promotional examinations in the New Haven Department of Fire Service,” he said. “The decision confirms what should be a basic principle of law: a municipality should not be held liable for following a ruling of the United States Supreme Court.”

Did Bolden just completely flip the script and take deny credit for winning a law suit then give Briscoe a job he did not qualify for, pay him $285K for losing the suit drop the case then and have Bolden say..

“A municipality should not be held liable for following a ruling of the United States Supreme Court.”

Wait..Wait this some $hit or what?

posted by: Prince1030 on April 8, 2014  1:42am

Even though jobs are hard to find, who would want a job that you received as a bribe or that you are not qualified for… NO ONE will have any respect for the man.. One other thing when you are tested for a job the person with the highest score gets the job ( No matter what color)... 100 beats 99